St Petersburg has seen the opening of the festival "St Petersburg — India. Dialogue of Cultures" to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and India. As part of the event, the University students presented their reports on this country.

Mr Kumar Gaurav, Consul General of India in St Petersburg, took part in the opening of the festival. ‘India and Russia are not just friends and not just partners. We have established strategic cooperation. This means that we are happy with your success, and you with ours’, he said. The Consul of India at St Petersburg reminded that India and the USSR had established diplomatic relations four months before India’s independence from Great Britain, officially declared on 15 August 1947.

Congratulations were delivered by Margarita Mudrak, Chairperson of the Board of the St Petersburg Association for International Cooperation, and Sergei Markov, Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for External Relations of St Petersburg. On behalf of Alexander Belsky, Chairperson of the Legislative Assembly of St Petersburg, Anton Rudakov, a member of the Legislative Assembly of St Petersburg, congratulated on the upcoming anniversary of India’s independence. Mariia Shcherbakova, Deputy Chairperson of the St Petersburg branch of the Russian Peace Foundation, delivered a speech on behalf of the Russian Peace Foundation. Yaroslav Vassilkov, President of the Society for Cultural Relations with India and Senior Research Associate at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera), described how he took part in the flag-raising ceremony on Independence Day during his visit to India in 1985 in Calcutta.

Anna Chelnokova, Chairperson of the Society for Cultural Relations with India and Associate Professor in the Department of Indian Philology at St Petersburg University, spoke about the outstanding Russian scholars who have dedicated their lives to the study of India.

Even at the dawn of the development of Indology in St Petersburg, three major research centres were formed. Among them are: St Petersburg University; the Asian Museum (now the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences); and the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera). ‘From the very beginning and onward, these institutions work in close cooperation with each other,’ said Anna Chelnokova. In 1836, Professor Robert Lentz from the Asiatic Museum was invited to the Faculty of Philology at St Petersburg University to teach Sanskrit and comparative linguistics. After the foundation of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies in 1858, the Department of Sanskrit-Persian Literature was opened. The founder and first lecturer was Professor Kaetan Kossovich (1814–1883). In St Petersburg, there was a special school of Sanskrit study. The school brought together traditional Indian methods and European leading approaches.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Russian Indology was primarily focused on the ancient Indian studies. The study of modern Indian languages began only in the 1920s, when Aleksei Barannikov initiated the teaching of the two leading Hindustani languages, i.e. Urdu and Hindi. Aleksei Barannikov was Professor at Leningrad State University; well-known translator of medieval Indian literature; and researcher of the Romani language.

The study of the South Indian languages and the Dravidian languages began thanks to Alexander Mervart who worked at the Kunstkamera. Yet a long-standing tradition of teaching these languages was established in St Petersburg only after the war, thanks to the efforts of Leningrad researchers Semen Rudin and Nikita Gurov.

Today, St Petersburg University is one of the three centres for the study of South Indian languages in Europe.
Anna Chelnokova, Chairperson of the Society for Cultural Relations with India, Associate Professor in the Department of Indian Philology at St Petersburg University

In the first half of the 20th century, the study of the Bengali language began in St Petersburg. In the 1920-1930s, Associate Professor Mikhail Tubianskii taught a course on Bengali literature at the University. The first textbooks on this language were published. Yet the flourishing came thanks to Vera Novikova, who was the Head of the Department of Indian Philology at Leningrad State University. Her students participated in the Russian translation of the works by Rabindranath Tagore who was a classic of Indian literature.

In the 1930s, Professor Aleksei Barannikov initiated the study of the Marathi language. This idea was realised in the post-war period thanks to the activities of the Indologist Tatiana Katenina. Today, Nina Krasnodembskaia cherishes and continues this tradition. She is a graduate of St Petersburg University and a leading research associate at the Kunstkamera.

St Petersburg is also known as a centre for the study of medieval dialects of Hindi and the training of brilliant translators of Indian literary monuments.

Today, new initiatives are being implemented in St Petersburg. Many universities are beginning to teach disciplines of the Indological cycle, and a wide range of events related to this country is being held. Definitely, it is very encouraging to witness it.
Anna Chelnokova, Chairperson of the Society for Cultural Relations with India, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University

Kirill Likhachev, Associate Professor in the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at St Petersburg University, spoke about the current political and economic situation in India. He also spoke about the development of relations between our countries. ‘The unique nature of the historical and cultural development of India over the millennia and its socio-political structure after gaining independence in 1947 largely predetermined the presence of those contrasts that characterise its current situation,’ the expert believes. ‘Indian society, which has almost one and a half billion people, has a great linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity. It also has a very complex system of stratification. This society successfully lives according to democratic norms of the federal system.’

According to Kirill Likhachev, India follows the foreign policy concept of strategic autonomy and maintains a special privileged relationship with Russia even in the face of intense confrontation between Russia and Western European countries resulting from the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. ‘Cooperation between our countries has been traditionally built on three pillars. Among them are: military-technical cooperation; contacts in the field of nuclear energy; and, to a lesser extent, oil and gas industry,’ he said. ‘Yet the current priority is the development of trade and economic ties and the support of joint business projects.’

At the end of the event, the exhibition "Images of India in the works of artists of St Petersburg" was opened. There was also a presentation and tasting of Indian tea.